Water meter bribes, police-towing thefts — NJ corruption charges this week
New Brunswick water ratepayers were getting hosed on account of two Water Department employees who took bribes in exchange for reducing the bills for some property owners, prosecutors say.
William “Billi” Ortiz, a meter reader for the city utility, and Joseph “Gordo” DeBonis, an account clerk, have been suspended from their jobs after being charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and bribery in official and political matters — all second-degree crimes – as well as third-degree tampering with public records or information. They were indicted this week by a state grand jury.
Theirs is not the only case this week involving corruption by a government employee.
In Atlantic City, the former manager of the Police Department's tow lot has been charged with pocketing $80,000 in towing fees over a two-year period.
Dennis Bell Sr., a former city resident who now resides in Maryland, had been suspended without pay from the civilian position until his resignation Thursday. He began working there in 2000.
He was charged with theft and official misconduct after a four-month investigation discovered the extent of the stealing, Atlantic County prosecutors said Friday. The city's Office of Revenue and Finance first came across discrepancies with the tow lot finances, prosecutors said.
In New Brunswick, Ortiz, a 55-year-old North Brunswick resident, accepted a $4,200 bribe from a landlord who owns multiple properties in the city, the state Attorney General’s Office said.
After Ortiz collected the bribe last year, DeBonis, 55, of Toms River, altered the department’s database to reduce the bribe payer’s water bills by 90 percent, authorities say.
In 2014, the two were part of another scheme in which Ortiz took a $1,000 bribe to switch out a property owner’s water meter with one that did not record actual water usage. Before the end of the month, the meter — which he had nicknamed “the thief” — was switched out again in order to avoid raising any red flags, authorities claim.
“Ortiz and DeBonis had a duty to ensure water customers were properly billed based on accurate readings, but we allege they corruptly solicited bribes in return for falsifying bills and meter readings,” state Attorney General Christopher Porrino said Friday. “When public employees like Ortiz and Debonis allegedly take bribes for special treatment, trust in government is undermined and the public ends up footing the bill.”
The Water Department is not the only city agency that’s dealt with corruption and bribery allegations.
Last year, Middlesex County prosecutors charged four New Brunswick Parking Authority employees with conspiracy and taking bribes from restaurant owners in exchange for allowing their customers to park in closed decks.
In 2008, six Parking Authority employees were charged in similar crimes.
Also last year, a New Brunswick firefighter was charged with with filing bogus disability claims. Another city firefighter was charged with a similar crime in 2015.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.